We’re officially in the NHL offseason and it feels good to say that. It’s been a long season. It’s July 1st on Friday, we need some time off from games and we need to get our rosterbation on. First, I feel like we need to start with celebrating one of my favourite former Leafs, Nazem Kadri.
“For everyone that thought I was a liability in the playoffs you can kiss my ass.”
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) June 27, 2022
Kadri was the scapegoat for first round playoff losses back when the Leafs scapegoated instead of just saying they believe in everyone. He has always been a favourite target of the Department of Player Safety, and for whatever reason, the Leafs decided they didn’t need a star player on a $4.25M contract, away he went. (Reminder: you can still like Kyle Dubas and acknowledge this was a bad trade.)
Fast forward to last night and a player who was a fan favourite for many of us got his moment, got his celebration, and also got his chance to throw all the playoff liability talk back in the faces of so many people who doubted him. He deserved that moment and I’m glad he got it. Hopefully, now that he came back to finish out the Cup Finals with a broken thumb Kadri won’t have to suffer through people questioning his work ethic or whether he cares about his team.
Now that Kadri has his win and he’s off to free agency, is it too much to hope the Leafs bring him back? Well, the quote above probably makes that a hard thing to do, but I want to remain optimistic. I won’t look at the salary cap situation that will 100% remind me of how difficult that would be to happen, but so much of what has been missing from the Leafs in the past few seasons is exactly what Kadri brings and there’s a reason why he’s a champion now.
What’s going on in Winnipeg?
It’s been a tough week for the Jets. It looks like they are putting their captain, Blake Wheeler, on the trade block. They had Barry Trotz chose a year of unemployment over stepping behind their bench as the head coach. And they’ve had Pierre-Luc Dubois state that he isn’t interested in any contract with the Jets that takes him past his unrestricted free agency, essentially putting a two year time limit on how much longer he’s willing to stay with the club.
All of this seems to be pointing towards the Jets heading into a rebuild. Ehlers, Morrisey, Schmidt, and Connor are all locked up on pretty decent contracts for the next few seasons and will likely be what they build around in a market that struggles to attract stars players, but in addition to the Wheeler and Dubois situation, you have to wonder if Schiefele and Hellebucyk will be available, and those are certainly players that address needs for the Leafs.
Hellebucyk in particular is someone the Leafs should explore as elite goaltending doesn’t come around too often, and whatever price needs to be paid to bring him in seems like it would be worth it.
Will there be interest in Muzzin?
In an offseason that is going to see teams chase down 30 year old bottom pairing defensemen and throw insane money at that, it will be interesting to see if Muzzin generates any interest as a much better option than a lot of the names available in free agency. Obviously all the cards are held by Muzzin as he still holds a full no trade clause, but of the Leafs group it doesn’t feel like Muzzin would be one of the impossible players to shake loose from the Leafs.
Part of the appeal for teams to pursue Muzzin is that he is about to have his signing bonus paid and after that he’ll only be owed $2M in salary this season, and only $6M over the remainder of his contract which extends through next season. That’s pretty affordable for Muzzin, even if he has lost a step. The $5.625M AAV is bit harder for teams like the Leafs, and a lot of others to deal with, but for contending teams that still need to watch their bottom line like Nashville, Carolina, and Florida he could be an intriguing option, and those could be teams that Jake would waive his no trade for. It’s just a matter of if they will be in the market for a defenseman.
Big game hunting
Let’s say the Leafs make the most likely trades and move out Mrazek, Kerfoot, and Holl. Let’s also assume the Leafs will heavily lean on the Marlies to fill out their roster, and none of their UFAs will be coming back. Let’s also assume the Leafs bring back Sandin, Engvall, and Liljegren at the average of around $2M/yr. And finally let’s assume the Leafs are generally frugal with on either their backup goaltender and either cheap on their starter as well ($3M max) or another roster player ($1M-3M) the Leafs can spend in the $6M range (skater) or $8M range (goaltender). That likely doesn’t get me to my dream of bringing back Kadri, but it does put the Leafs in the range of Kuemper, Nichuskin, Neiderreiter, Trocheck, and possibly Strome.
History generally seems to favour a number of smart small additions rather than one big addition anyway. I’d expect a number of smaller moves from Dubas and company.
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